by Eugene McCartan writing in Shopfloor the magazine of Mandate
Next month we will face yet another austerity budget, which will be a continuation of the current strategy of making the people pay for the crisis and the odious debt. Tens of thousands of families have had to find the money to buy school uniforms, school books, school “donations,” or sports gear. Many will have either gone to moneylenders, squeezed a few quid more out of the credit union, or raided their dwindling savings to buy what is required to keep the children in school.
Our children will be returning to classes that are growing in size and bursting at the seams, in schools with fewer teachers, fewer resources, and more children. Children in the wealthy private schools will be well looked after, and they can expect to end up in university, to follow their mammies and daddies into the corridors of power.
Families with children either heading to or returning to third level also face mounting bills, with increased fees and cuts in grants. Many students will simply not be able to return, because their families can no longer afford it.
The government is proclaiming that their policies are working, as the number on the live register has dropped to 13½ per cent, or 435,280, whereas the real reason for the drop in the numbers unemployed is spiralling emigration, with one person leaving the country every six minutes, together with the limited period for which people are able to sign on, as well as the doctoring of the figures.
People wait in trepidation to see what is coming next and what this budget has in store for them. The government is gearing up for a long, slow series of cuts, for restrictions and changes in eligibility, which will have a cumulative effect. More drugs will be unavailable on the medical card. It is a case of of the spread of poverty by a thousand cuts.
We will pay about €9 billion to service a debt that does not belong to us—money that could be spent on our schools, hospitals, and community services. This €9 billion is coming out of your pocket, from your wage packet, social welfare benefit, or pension.
It is the job of the left and the trade union movement to assist and give leadership in breaking free of the grip of fear and abandoning the feeling of hopelessness that permeates people’s lives.
The trade union movement needs to break free of the stifling grip of the Labour Party. If it does not, it will be increasingly marginalised.
The recent shambolic event in O’Connell Street to commemorate the 1913 Lock-out speaks volumes about how marginal it has become. The ICTU predicted that 80,000 people would attend; a little over 3,000 turned up, while most Dubliners walked past, ignoring the assembled dignitaries of the Labour Party in their exclusive VIP section. The egalitarianism of Connolly and Larkin was abandoned by the ICTU in order to rub shoulders with government ministers and hangers-on.
No—Irish workers must now rebuild a united, coherent, fighting trade union movement. The sectionalism being fostered is the road to nowhere. As Connolly and Larkin forged a “new trade unionism” from 1907 to 1913, it now falls to this generation to do the same.
The labour movement can no longer afford to use old and failed methods and styles of work. If we keep doing the same thing then we end up with the same result. If you keep voting for or supporting the same people or parties you can only get more of the same. The trade union movement needs to develop its own political understanding of what is happening; it needs to develop the political skills of its members so as to recognise friend from foe.
The internal troika of the establishment parties—Fine Gael, Labour Party, and Fianna Fáil, and no doubt a few others will join this list after the next general election—will continue their policy of permanent austerity, regardless of which particular combination makes up the government, unless we stand together and build together.
Eugene McCartan is general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland/
Páirtí Cumannach na hÉireann